Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Conquering Your Paradoxical Leadership Challenges with the eXpansive Leadership Model

The test of a first-rate intelligence is
the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind
at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.
F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Dimensions of Leadership
As complicated and difficult as your job as a leader is (at work or home), it has only two primary dimensions:

I. What you do – task-oriented behaviors.
II. How you interact with others – relationship-oriented behaviors.

Each of these dimensions can be subdivided into two sides as seen below (examples are in parentheses):

I. What you do:
A. Major Tasks                         B. Minor Tasks

(contemplate strategic issues)   (focus on project details)

II. How you interact with others:
A. Direct Others                       B. Support Others

(confront a poor performer)      (celebrate team accomplishments)

Defining the leaders’ job in this manner is not new. The pioneering research at Ohio State University and the University of Michigan identified the importance of task-oriented and relationship-oriented behaviors back in the 1950s and 1960s.

Paradoxical Challenges Require Paradoxical Thinking
Professor Richard Farson writes in his challenging book on paradox that, “There’s nothing as invisible as the obvious.” (1) What is obvious, yet not done until now, is to place the two sides of each dimension in opposition to each other and in an interdependent model, as seen below:


This general model summarizes what you need to do (Minor and Major Tasks) and how you need to interact with those doing the tasks (Direct and Support People) as you pursue your goals. Each of these four sides is also ways of thinking about your leadership responsibilities. How you think about what you do and how think about your interactions with others is fundamental to your success. This is because the quality of your thinking dictates the effectiveness of your decisions, which determines your actions, thereby creating your results. (You might want to read that last sentence again. I’ll warn you when I’m being profound!) If you want better results, you need to think better about your challenges and goals. And since we have already concluded in a previous blog that many of your challenges are paradoxical, so too must be your leadership thinking – your process of unleashing the energy of others toward worthy goals.

These four ways of thinking represent four fundamental leadership styles that I have labeled Rational, Visionary, Commanding, and Empowering as seen in below in the eXpansive Leadership Model (XLM). Notice that the styles are in opposition to each other. This enables you to begin thinking about issues paradoxically. The research predicts that you can produce eXtraordinary results when you apply this model to the mountains you scale every day.


How can you use this model to think paradoxically?

Keep eXpanding,


P.S. Click on this link (or paste it into your browser) to read about or take the XLM assessment.

1. Richard Farson; Management of the Absurd: Paradoxes in Leadership, Simon & Schuster, New York, NY, 1996.

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